Defining data poverty

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Defining data poverty

What is data poverty?, the discovery report from this research, is published today and is based on stakeholder engagement in Scotland and Wales, a review of existing literature and scoping of international work in this space.

We believe the findings from this work are important, insightful and timely. They show that the concept of both individual and household data affordability is significantly under-researched across the UK. Often it is lost in wider digital inclusion initiatives focused primarily on digital connectivity, infrastructure or literacy. We believe that this in itself is a significant finding. It means that:

  • We do not know how much individuals and households pay for data in the UK, or how this varies according to their circumstances.
  • We do not know how many people are data-poor, or who they are.
  • We do not know in detail which groups or places are most vulnerable to data poverty across the nations of the UK.
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With many children now frequently learning remotely, access to data or an internet connection for education is vital.

This gap in knowledge and understanding matters. The pandemic has shown that access to the internet is essential for individuals and communities. Many vital services such as education, social security, health and work are now online. Those who cannot access enough data for their needs are increasingly excluded from services, work, community participation and social engagement.

This report also proposes a working definition for the concept of data poverty in both Scotland and Wales that could be applicable across the UK. By data poverty we mean:

‘those individuals, households or communities who cannot afford sufficient, private and secure mobile or broadband data to meet their essential needs.’

We recognise that attempting to define a concept that is so intrinsically linked to other factors of inequality, economic poverty and exclusion is difficult and can be divisive. But, without a working definition to build from, we believe that it is harder to identify the innovations and policy solutions needed to address this challenge and make a tangible difference.

With this in mind, the report concludes that to build a stronger, more accurate and more detailed understanding of data poverty in Scotland and Wales, research is needed to:

  • Identify who is vulnerable to data poverty.
  • Understand the experiences of those who cannot afford enough broadband or mobile data for their essential needs.
  • Develop a standardised tool to identify those people experiencing data poverty across seven domains: affordability; choice; infrastructure; privacy and security; quantity; skills; and usability.
  • Estimate the number of people experiencing data poverty and understand the breadth and depth of poverty experienced.
Workshop quotes DP Report 2020

In addition, our report includes a summary of the different types of innovations, solutions and responses that have arisen to help tackle data poverty globally. These are summarised in Section 5 and are grouped into three broad types of approaches:

  1. Bringing access to underserved communities.
  2. Gifting, sharing and subsidising mobile data packages.
  3. Zero rating of content.

In the coming months, as we begin to emerge from our public health crisis, policy-makers in Scotland and Wales will turn their attention to setting out their agendas for renewal and recovery in advance of the upcoming national elections. We hope that the findings, case studies and the working definition of data poverty set out in this report can help inform a better and broader conversation about how to tackle this urgent form of societal exclusion in our communities.

We are very grateful to Dr Patricia Lucas, Rosa Robinson and Lizzy Treacy for their excellent work in producing this report in the difficult circumstances we are all in.

At Nesta, we will be building on these findings and taking a deeper dive into this issue to understand in more detail the individuals and households affected by data poverty across Scotland and Wales. Please do get in touch if you would like to be kept in the loop with this work.

Author

Adam Lang

Adam Lang

Adam Lang

Head of Nesta Scotland, Innovation Programmes (Scotland)

Adam leads the work of Nesta in Scotland with a focus on supporting digital, data and technology-driven innovation for social good.

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Jessica Clark

Jessica Clark

Jessica Clark

Programme Coordinator - HARP, Nesta Wales

Jessica is now working with Y Lab.

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Angharad Dalton

Angharad Dalton

Angharad Dalton

Programme Manager, Y Lab

Angharad is the Programme Manager for Innovate to Save

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Rob Ashelford

Rob Ashelford

Rob Ashelford

Head of Nesta Wales & Head of Y Lab

Rob is Head of Nesta Wales and Head of Y Lab, the Public Service Innovation Lab for Wales.

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